Posted by Rob Sinclair
Chief Accessibility Officer, Microsoft

Microsoft announced three new advances in accessibility today in San Diego at the 26th International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference sponsored by California State University Northridge (CSUN).

We are pleased to announce the immediate availability of Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training. This online package contains free accessibility training courses for developers and an accessibility resource guide providing information about many types of disabilities and age-related difficulties and guidance regarding which accessible technology solutions can help to mitigate their effects.

We also announced two new accessibility add-ins for Office 2010, which enable real-time collaboration between people with vision or hearing impairments and their peers at work, school and home:

• Save as DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) for Microsoft Office 2010, which helps people who are visually challenged take full advantage of the latest version of Office.

• The Subtitling Text Add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 (STAMP) to assist people with hearing difficulties by enabling PowerPoint users to easily add closed captions to video and audio files in their presentations.

While these collaboration-enhancing add-ins for Microsoft Office benefit people with disabilities, the Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training content helps developers around the world create more accessible websites, commercial software and internal IT applications that benefit people with a wide range of abilities. Together, these new resources enable business leaders to more easily define and execute on strategies to improve the accessibility of their technology solutions.

Although many people think accessible technology only benefits people with disabilities, a Forrester Research study commissioned by Microsoft found that 57 percent of working-age computer users (18-64 years old) would likely benefit from accessible technology due to difficulties and impairments that can affect their ability to use a computer. Those numbers are increasing as baby boomers develop age-related difficulties such as low vision and arthritis. Many other people rely on accessibility settings to personalize their computing experience or to compensate for an injury, environmental condition or other temporary circumstance.

The key learning is that accessibility can make it easier for anyone to see, hear and use a computer — regardless of their age or physical and cognitive abilities — but only if developers have the skills, resources and commitment to create products that are accessible to everyone.

The seven new training courses from Microsoft cover a range of topics, including Web accessibility and Windows platform technologies such as Windows Forms and the Windows Presentation Foundation. Armed with this content, developers can focus on anything from general accessibility to development of accessible websites with specific technologies such as Microsoft Silverlight, HTML5 and ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications). Each training course stresses the importance of designing accessibility into products and internal systems from the start of the development cycle.

As companies, governments and non-governmental organizations conduct more business and offer more services online, they realize that accessibility is now essential for achieving and maintaining a competitive advantage, recruiting and retaining the best and brightest employees and providing the quality of service that customers demand.

We initially developed these tools and training courses for our own use to increase accessibility awareness and expertise among developers in Microsoft product groups. However, in response to our customers' requests for accessibility guidance, we made these resources available, free of charge, to corporations, governments and NGOs to help make their technology more accessible.

Microsoft has been a leader in information technology for 35 years, and at the forefront of accessible technology for nearly a quarter century, but we still don't have all the answers. As technology continues to evolve rapidly with new innovations, consumers’ needs change just as quickly. As a result, creating technology solutions that are fully accessible is a constant and recurring challenge. More work must be done toward that goal, and well-trained developers are a powerful force to make that happen.

At Microsoft, we continually monitor our accessibility offerings to meet the changing needs of our customers and partners. We are committed to ensuring Windows remains an outstanding platform for other organizations to use to run their business or to develop their own accessible solutions.

By announcing these Office add-ins and releasing Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training today, we hope to increase awareness of the importance of accessibility, and share best practices to increase the availability of accessible products and services worldwide. These resources support Microsoft’s mission to help people of all abilities realize their full potential.

For more information about accessibility at Microsoft, visit http://www.microsoft.com/enable/.